Toyota continue their dominance in LMP1, locking out the front row in qualifying for the FIA WEC 6 Hours of Shanghai.

Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi took pole position with an average time of 1:42.931 with the championship leading #8 car of Fernando Alonso and Kazuki Nakajima just 0.228 seconds behind. During the first half of qualifying, Bruno Senna split the Toyotas going quicker than Fernando Alonso. Nakajima fought back in the second session though to best Andre Lotterer by just three tenths of a second. The resulting average times meant that the #1 Rebellion took third, losing out on second place by six hundredths of a second! The #17 SMP Racing took fourth with the #3 Rebellion rounding out the top five.

In LMP2, Jackie Chan DC Racing took a 1-2 front row lock out for their home event. Ho Pin Tung and Gabriel Aubrey posting an average time of 1:48.888 around the Shanghai circuit. The #37, which took the win in Fuji averaged a time of 1:49.138 – three thents off pole position. With the #38 scoring a point for pole position in class, they are now on equal points with Signatech Alpine for the lead of the championship. Alpine will start fourth in class behind the DragonSpeed Oreca on the second row.

In GTE-Pro, Stefan Mucke and Olvier Pla took Ford’s third pole of the season after a close fight with BMW Team MTEK. BMW were on for a 1-2 finish in qualifying before Mucke put the 66 Ford top of the time sheets with a time of 1:58.464. The #81 BMW M8 GTE of Martin Tomczyk and Nicky Catsburg will start second with the #82 car in fifth. The #97 Aston Martin and #92 Porsche dropped the BMW down the order, setting fast times late in the session.

A last-ditch lap from Pedro Lamy saw the #98 Aston snatch pole position in GTE-Am ahead of the #88 Dempsey Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR. The #54 Spirit of Race Ferrari will start in third.

Tomorrows race looks set to be a wet one and gets under way at 11Am local time.

#7 climbs from the back of the field to take first win of the season

Toyota Gazoo Racing secured a 1-2 finish at its home FIA World Endurance Championship race at Fuji Speedway as the #7 climbed from the back of the LMP1 field to take its first win of the superseason. The start of the race, held on a wet-but-drying track, was held under safety car conditions as teams got a feel for the conditions. As soon as the race went green, the #7 – of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez – started to gain positions as it cut its way through the LMP1 privateers. However, they didn’t have much chance to make real inroads as an explosive tyre failure for the MR Racing Ferrari 488 of Motoaki Ishikowa led to a lengthy caution period as the marshals cleared up tyre and bodywork debris scattered across the start-finish straight. While Jenson Button inherited the lead of the race – thanks to the Brit staying out under the safety car in his SMP Racing BR1, rather than pitting for new tyres – the #3 Rebellion Racing R13 of Gustavo Menezes had its race ended abruptly. Coming out of turn one, Menezes lost control of the car and hit the barriers causing extensive damage to the rear of the car. After the early excitement, the six hours turned into a comfortable rhythm for the Toyota crews as the #7 moved into the race lead by the end of the second hour and didn’t relinquish the position. The #8 of Fernando Alonso, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima finished second, 11.440sec behind. Rounding out the podium positions was the #1 Rebellion Racing R13, while Button brought the #11 – which he shared with Mikhail Aleshin and Vitaly Petrov, home in fourth.

In LMP2, Jackie Chan DC Racing continued the dominant pace the team had shown from the start of the weekend as the #37 led home the #38 Oreca 07. The team had fortune on their side though, as the pole-sitting Dragonspeed Oreca – started by Anthony Davidson – gambled on full wets at the start but quickly lost positions to the cars behind which had started on intermediates on the rapidly driving track. The correct tyres, and good strategy, allowed Jazeman Jaafar and Gabriel Aubry to climb up to the top spots in the JCDC entries, while a great overtaking move at turn one by Nicolas Lapierre in the Signatech Alpine moved the Frenchman up to third during the second hour. When the chequered flag came out, those positions remained the same with Matthieu Vaxiviere – in the TDS Racing entry – finishing a lap down in fourth.

The GTE Pro battle proved to be one of the tightest on the track as most of the manufacturers led the class for at least some section of the race. Aston Martin Racing started on pole with the #95 of Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen, but as the track dried out, the Vantage lost pace – allowing the BMW Team MTEK BMW M8 of Antonio Felix Da Costa to pull into the lead after a great opening stint. However, as the race went on, the #92 Porsche 911 RSR of Michael Christensen and Kevin Estre regained the positions they lost early on to take their second win of the season. The BMW of Da Costa and Blomqvist held onto second, as they opened up a solid gap over the #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK Ford GT of Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell.

Team Project 1 continued the Porsche dominance of the GTE classes as the #56 won GTE Am. Driven by Patrick Lidsey, Jorg Bergmeister and Egidio Perfetti, the trio were in contention from the start as they battled the Spirit of Race Ferrari on-and-off for the opening two-thirds of the race. As the Ferrari fell away, the #88 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche moved into contention as Matteo Cairoli relegated Jonny Adam – in the TF Sport Aston Martin – to third in the final half hour. Cairoli looked to be closing in on Bergmeister, but ran out of time to have any chance of threatening the leaders. Adam finished on the podium, ahead of the factory Aston Martin of Pedro Lamy, Mathias Lauda and Paul Dalla Lana despite the latter spinning to the back of the field on the opening lap.

Pit lane speed penalty denies Toyota a 1-2 start

The #7 Toyota Gazoo Racing TS050 of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez will start the Six Hours of Fuji at the back of the LMP1 field after being stripped of pole position. The entry, which had initially benefitted from Sebastien Buemi’s fastest lap in the #8 being deleted for a track limits violation, was itself stripped of its times because Lopez was adjudged to have been too fast going into pit entry. The penalty means the #8 – driven by Buemi, Fernando Alonso and Kazuki Nakajima - has secured its third pole position of the season and will start on the front-row alongside the #1 Rebellion Racing R13-AER.

Toyota explained that the Argentinian hadn’t engaged the pit speed limiter before the pit lane entrance, meaning he was 8.7km/h too fast entering the pits.

“It happened and from my side I have learned from this and will avoid a similar situation in the future. My biggest mistake is not reporting the issue because I had a little doubt. I didn't know it could affect my lap time, which had been completely legal. If I had known that I would have reported it and for sure we would have done another lap but I will learn from this. It's a pity but there is still a long race ahead of us,” Lopez added.

Kobayashi and Lopez take home pole for Toyota in LMP1

Toyota Gazoo Racing will start its home FIA World Endurance Championship race on pole position as it took a 1-2 in qualifying at Fuji Speedway. The #7 TS050 Hybrid of Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez ended the 20-minute session on pole, but they had fortune on their side as the #8 – driven by Fernando Alonso and Sebastien Buemi – had a lap deleted late on. The penalty, for Buemi running wide at turn 15, demoted the Swiss from pole to second, and his second lap was only good enough for second – 0.091sec off the pole on the two-driver average lap times.

The second row was locked out by Rebellion Racing as the pairing of Andre Lotterer and Neel Jani in the #1 R13-Gibson edged out their team-mates Gustavo Menezes and Thomas Laurent by 0.174sec. Fifth went to the #11 SMP Racing entry of Stephane Sarrazin and Egor Orudzhev, the pair finishing just ahead of the sister car of Jenson Button and Vitaly Petrov.

In LMP2, it was the Dragonspeed Oreca 07 that claimed the top spot as Anthony Davidson’s blistering lap in his stint combined with an equally strong time from Roberto Gonzalez to go 0.297sec clear of the #37 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca. The #37 – driven by Jazeman Jaafar and Nabil Jeffri – edged out the second car of Stephane Richelmi and Gabriel Aubry by just 0.091sec in a session-long battle between the pair.Fourth went to Signatech Alpine, with TDS Racing – which was fighting at the top in practice – only fifth at the hands of Francois Perrodo and Matthieu Vaxiviere.

In GTE Pro, Aston Martin Racing secured the best qualifying result for the new Aston Martin Vantage so far this season as it claimed a 1-3 start. Taking pole position was the ‘Dane Train’ #95 of Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen as the pair set a 1m36.093sec on their average times to go 0.182sec clear of the BMW Team MTEK BMW M8 of Tom Blomqvist and Antonio Felix Da Costa. Third was the second Aston Martin of Alex Lynn and Maxime Martin, which was just 0.091sec quicker than the Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK Ford GT of Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell – the latter losing time on his last flying lap, and missing out on the chance of improving the #67’s time. The #71 AF Corse Ferrari of Davide Rigon and Sam Bird rounded out the top five, just 0.449sec off the pace of the pole sitters.

Like Free Practice Three this morning, GTE Am was dominated by the Porsche 911 RSRs. Claiming pole position was the #88 Dempsey-Proton Racing entry driven by Matteo Cairoli and Satoshi Hoshino. The Pedro Lamy/Paul Dalla Lana Aston Martin was second – breaking the Porsche dominance slightly – but they have two Porsches breathing down their neck – the #77 Dempsey-Proton entry and the #56 Team Project 1 car.

#8 Toyota sets the pace in the first two practice sessions in Japan

Toyota Gazoo Racing topped both the opening practice sessions for its home FIA World Endurance Championship round at Fuji, despite both sessions being disrupted by red flags. In both sessions, it was the #8 TS050 Hybrid of Sebastien Buemi, Fernando Alonso and Kazuki Nakajima that topped the LMP1 times. In the first session, Buemi was the master of the damp/drying conditions while in the second, it was Alonso who set the fastest lap of the weekend so far. Best of the rest in the top prototype class was shared between the #11 SMP Racing BR Engineering BR1–AER and the #13 Rebellion Racing R13-Gibson. However, both sessions were heavily disrupted as staff at the Japanese circuit had to undertake multiple repairs to ‘sausage’ kerbs which were damaged repeatedly in the two 90-minute practices.

The fastest time in LMP2 was set by Matthieu Vaxiviere the TDS Racing Oreca 07 in the first session. Signatech Alpine’s Andre Negrao set the pace in the second test, but couldn’t find the pace to beat the Frenchman’s early benchmark. Jackie Chan DC Racing had a good start to the weekend as the #38 of Ho-Pin Tung, Gabriel Aubry and Stephane Richelmi was twice the runner-up around the Fuji Speedway.

Despite Balance of Performances changes prior to the weekend, Ford Chip Ganassi Racing topped GTE Pro in FP1. Stefan Mucke finished ahead of both the Porsche 911 RSRs and the second Ford GT of Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell. However, FP2 was the Aston Martin show as the #95 Aston Martin Vantage of Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen topped the competitive GT class thanks to a late charge by Thiim. The Dane’s time, with just ten minutes remaining in the slightly extended session, deposed Tincknell from the top spot and denied Ford a sweep of Friday practice.

In GTE Am, Pedro Lamy left it until his last lap of the session to give the previous generation Aston Martin Vantage GTE top honours in FP1, denying the #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche of Matt Campbell - the pace-setter for most of the session. Dempsey-Proton got its revenge in the second session though, as Matteo Cairoli topped the times in the sister #88.

Ginetta and Manor Endurance Racing part ways ahead of the FIA WEC 6 Hours of Fuji

Manor Endurance Racing have stated that they will have no further involvement in the running of the Ginetta AER G60 LT-P1 program due to commercial reasons. It is no secret that the Chinese backers involved in the project, CEFC China Energy have been having financial difficult from the early stages of the program which forced both cars to sit out the season opening race at Spa Francorchamps. Both cars faced technical issues at the Prologue back in March which severely limited the amount of running they were able to do. As As a result, the competition debut of the car was this summers 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The entry is held by TRSM China Motorsport who contracted Manor Endurance Racing as a service provider. Ginetta have heavily subsidised the running of the program this year in the interest of getting the cars out on the grid and competing on the world stage and are now focused on getting the car back out there with the new AER engine to see how they stack up against the competition. Manor Sporting Director Graeme Lowdon stated that Ginetta were not in a position to change the engine ahead of the Silverstone race, however, Ginetta insisted the car had been homologated in time for the event. However, this was apparently not the case with both cars failing to take the start of the FIA WEC 6 Hours of Silverstone as the team had missed the deadline for dispensation from the FIA Endurance Committee to enter under a different model of car.

A single G60-LT-P1 is still entered for the FIA WEC 6 Hours of Fuji in October with Oliver Rowland, Alex Brundle and Mike Simpson on the entry list.

Both Toyota TS050 Hybrids have been disqualified this evening from the 6 Hours of Silverstone due to technical infringements. As a result, Rebellion Racing inherit a 1-2 finish.

Toyota were found to have failed a skid block deflection test in post race scrutineering. According to the stewards report the front section of the #8 Toyota’s skid block deflected 9mm under the specified 2500 N load on both sides. The #7 car had a 8mm deflection on the left side and a 6mm deflection on the right. Both cars were found to be in breach of Article 3.5.6.d of the LMP1H technical regulations and have therefore been excluded from the results. Toyota claim that both cars must have sustained damage to the internal stays resulting in the regulations breach. This explanation was quickly dismissed by the stewards who stated that the cars must be able to handle the normal demands of a six hour endurance race. The #3 Rebellion R13 of Mathias Beche, Thomas Laurent and Gustavo Menezes take the win in a 1-2 finish, marking the first outright victory for a non hybrid LMP1 since Spa 2012 where Audi won with the R18 Ultra.

Toyota claimed their third straight 1-2 finish at the FIA WEC 6 Hours of Silverstone making it three from three for the #8 Toyota of Kazuki Nakajima, Sebastien Buemi and Fernando Alonso.

The race got off to a chaotic start in LMP1, there was contact between the #17 SMP Racing BR1 of Stephane Sarrazin and the #3 Rebellion R13 of Mathias Beche. Beche was spun around whilst Sarrazin was forced wide off the circuit before rejoining on the run down towards Village. The pack split to avoid the tangled cars with a number of cars running wide over the run off. The #11 SMP Racing BR1 retired early on with engine failure and before home favourite Jenson Button even stepped in the car.

By the mid way point, Toyota held a comfortable lead, they were two laps ahead of the LMP1 privateer field with Fernando Alonso leading the way in the #8. The two cars had been jostling for position in the opening few hours before Alonso made a move on Mike Conway to take the lead. Rebellion managed to take third and fourth after Egor Orudzhev spun the car out of third position. Rene Binder retired the ByKolles CLM a couple of hours in, Binder diving off the circuit in avoidance of the Larbre Ligier who hit the brakes to adhere to a Full Course Yellow. Binder slammed into the barriers at the exit of the complex before spinning back out onto the track.

Toyota crossed the line with a comfortable lead at the end of the FIA WEC 6 Hours of Silverstone, the two TS050 Hybrid’s dominating as expected, crossing the line 4 laps ahead of the third place Rebellion. The Toyota #8 took a late lead in the final hour as the #7 of Conway, Lopez and Kobayashi suffered an issue with the floor. It was far from an easy win for the #8 though, the two cars traded places throughout the race, running within a couple of seconds of each other throughout the race. With the #7 dropping back in the final hour, the #8 Toyota crossed the line 19 seconds ahead. The #1 Rebellion looked set to take its first podium of the year but unfortunately had to change the rear wing at the final stop, dropping them in to fourth place behind the #3. It was a steady race for the Rebellions. Both cars were caught up in the Turn 1 incident but the teams got their heads down and pushed on as the rest fell by the wayside.

LMP2 was fairly static early on, the #37 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca held an early advantage of nearly half a minute towards the end of the first hour. There was a change of position at the end of the first hour as Ho Pin tung managed to pass the #29 Racing Team Nederland Dallara of Giedo Van Der Garde to make it a Jackie Chan DC Racing 1-2, an impressive achievement in itself following a drive through penalty for the #38 in the opening stages for contact at Turn 1. Further down the pack, it was a difficult start for the #31 DragonSpeed LMP2 entry, Roberto Gonzalez was forced to perform a full car re-set in the middle of the pack, cars dived left and right to avoid the stranded car but the #67 Ford made contact resulting in Gonzalez pitting for a rear end change.

The #37 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca lost the lead with a puncture just before the halfway point, dropping the car back to fourth and promoting the #38 car into the lead. At the halfway mark, the #28 TDS Racing Oreca and Signatech Alpine completed the top three. The third hour ended under safety car with TDS Racing emerging in the lead once the latest round of pit stops were completed and the race went back to green, Loic Duval leading the way. It was Jackie Chan DC Racing however who fought back to take a 1-2 finish, the #38 taking its second win of 2018. It was an impressive finish for the team, both cars had issues throughout the race. The #37 suffered a puncture and the #38 served an early drive through penalty for jumping the start before losing more time behind a safety car to recover the #82 MTEK BMW which went off at Beckets in a cloud of smoke. The championship leading Signatech Alpine finished third and a lap down on the two Jackie Chan DC Racing cars.

GTE-Pro was its usual self, close racing throughout the field with Olivier Pla having to work hard to recover the lead having been forced wide through Turn 1 to avoid the chaos ahead. Kevin Estre assumed an early lead, holding position through to the first round of stops. It was a strong start for Aston Martin who enjoyed a hard battle with both Ford GT’s early on. By the first round of stops, it was Kevin Estre who led the way from Andy Priaulx in the #67 Ford and Sam Bird in the #71 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE Evo.

Ford continued to lead in GTE-Pro, Andy Priaulx having now handed over to Harry Tincknell who led the field under safety car. The #51 AF Corse Ferrari split the two Fords having pitted just before the full course caution. Porsche were struggling with tyre degradation issues and were unable to challenge the leaders for now. Aston Martin were still lapping well but had fallen down the order before the safety car was called out as the result of a violent puncture. An issue in the next pit stop for the #66 Ford dropped the Stefan Mucke, Olivier Pla car out of contention.

The battle in GTE-Pro continued all the way to the finish as the #51 AF Corse Ferrari took their first win of the year. The #91 Porsche took second place ahead of the #67 Ford which took the final podium position after a fantastic fight to the finish with the #92 Porsche. Harry Tincknell went around the outside of Christensen at Stowe, the two of them banging together in the process before drag racing on the run down to the Vale Club complex. It was the best performance of the season so far for Aston Martin who finished fifth. The #95 had gearbox issues throughout the race but the #97 was always amongst the fight for the top five positions.

Leading the way early on in GTE-Am was the TF Sport Aston Martin of Salih Yoluc, Jonny Adam and Charlie Eastwood. Like the GTE Pro field, Yoluc had to take avoiding action through Turn 1, emerging in the lead ahead of the two Porsches. Contact for Paul Dalla Lana and the #54 Spirit of Race Ferrari saw both cars enter the pits early on and fall down the running order. Project 1 Porsche managed to retake the lead at the first round of stops with the #77 Dempsey Proton Porsche holding third place behind the #90 TF Sport Aston. By the half way mark, the #56 Project 1 Porsche led the way from the TF Sport Aston Martin. The #77 Dempsey Proton Porsche was holding its own in third.

The fight in GTE-Am came down to the final hour of the race between the Team Project 1 Porsche and TF Sport Aston Martin, or so it appeared. The two cars fought hard for the lead, Jonny Adam and Patrick Lindsay fighting hard in the final couple of hours. Both cars were handed 75 second stop-go penalties for pitstop infringements under Safety Car. As a result the #77 took the lead and inherited the win, extending their title lead with a second win of the season. The TF Sport Aston finished second place with the #56 Project 1 Porsche taking third place on the final lap of the race, passing Pedro Lamy in the #98 Aston Martin.

For the third time this year, Toyota take pole position, however this time, its the #7 car that will lead the field at the start of tomorrows FIA WEC 6 Hours of Silverstone

Fernando Alonso set the early pace in the LMP qualifying session with just one flying lap earlier this afternoon but Mike Conway returned to the top of the time sheets shortly before the driver change, beating Alonso by just 0.020 seconds. Kazuki Nakajima struggled to match Alonso’s pace after the switch over in a session hindered by traffic. The Japanese driver could only manage a time that was eight tenths slower than Lopez resulting in the first pole of the year for the #7 car. Although the #7 car took pole at Spa, it was disqualified in post qualifying scrutineering. The #7 car set a time of 1:36.895 with Alonso and Nakajima managing a 1:37.306.

It was a relatively strong performance for SMP Racing, the #11 BR1 of Mikhaeil Aleshin, Vitaly Petrov and Jenson Button qualified third in class but just over two seconds off the qualifying pace of the lead Toyota with a time of 1:38.932. Rebellion will start fourth and fifth in class tomorrow afternoon, the #3 leading the #1 car by just four tenths of a second.

In LMP2, the #37 Jackie Chan DC Racing car led a front row lock out, Jazeman Jaafar and Nail Jeffri setting a combined average of 1:44.896. The sister car, the #38 of Ho-Pin Tung, Gabriel Aubry and Stephane Richelmi was just three tenths back whilst the championship leader, the #36 Signatech Alpine of Lapierre, Negrao and Thiriet finished the session in third place with a time of 1:46.370.

Pastor Maldonado caused the first incident of the session, sending the #31 Dragonspeed into the gravel trap early on. This was shortly followed by contact between the #50 Larbre Competition Ligier JSP217 and the #29 Racing Team Nederland entry through Becketts. With just 5 minutes on the clock, Frits Van Eerd spun the #29 into the gravel backwards at Copse, causing a temporary red flag before a last minute dash to the flag.

In GTE Qualifying, Aston Martin continued to show an improved performance as a result of the rebalancing of the BOP regulations. Stefan Mucke and Olivier Pla put the #66 Ford on pole position despite a strong challenge from the #97 Aston Martin of Maxime Martin and Alex Lynn. The Aston duo qualified less than a tenth behind the Ford with a time of 1:55.805. Marco Sorensen and Nicki Thiim will start from third on the grid.

It was a disappoint session for Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell in the #67 Ford who will start tomorrows race in fourth. Both drivers struggled with traffic and will have a hard job tomorrow to recover lost ground.

BMW once again found themselves at the back of the pack, the #82 and #81 qualifying seventh and eighth respectively.

Championship new comers this year Project 1 secured the teams first pole position in the hands of Jorg Bergmeister and Egidio Perfetti, taking pole by two tenths over the Le Mans winning #77 Dempsey Proton Racing Porsche. Aston Martin took third an fourth in class, TF Sport taking third position ahead of the #98 AMR.

Tomorrows race kicks off at 12:00

Toyota remain top of the time sheets through all three Free Practice sessions at Silverstone.

Toyota Gazooo Racing kicked of the FIA WEC 6 Hours of Silverstone with a 1-2 finish in each of the three sessions. The #7 of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez set the fastest time in the opening session on Friday Morning, Conway setting a 1:39.916 with the sister car, the #7, just three tenths behind. Jose Maria Lopez made sure that the #7 remained top of the time sheets in FP2 later on Friday Afternoon, going 1.4 seconds quicker than Conway’s earlier bench mark to post a time of 1:38.536. Come Saturday morning and the final Free Practice session of the weekend, it was Fernando Alonso who topped the time sheets, taking another second off Friday’s times with a 1:37.677. Most notably however from the third session of the weekend, the #7 Toyota finished fourth, the two hybrid runners were split by both of the SMP entries, Jenson Button initially taking second place early in the session before his time was beaten by team mate Stephane Sarrazin in the other car.

The first session on Friday morning was red flagged on two different occasions, the first of which was the result of a substantial accident for the #1 Rebellion Racing R13 of Bruno Senna. Senna had a big off at Copse Corner and suffered a right ankle fracture in the impact. He has been ruled out from the remainder of the weekend leaving Neel Jani and Andre Lotterer to compete on their own. Rather impressively, Rebellion managed to get the car repaired and back out on track in time for FP3 on Saturday morning. The second red flag from Free Practice 1 was caused by the #4 ByKolles Racing ENSO CLM dropping oil on the track between turns 5 and 6 down the Wellington Straight.

In LMP2, the #28 TDS Racing Oreca 07 has remained around the top of the time sheets all weekend so far, taking the fastest time in Free Practice 1 and Free Practice 3. Former Audi LMP1 star Loic Duval set the fastest time of FP1 with stiff competition from the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca and the #36 Signatech Alpine. The trio are clear favourites this weekend having traded times throughout each of the three practice sessions. Frenchman Gabriel Aubry took the fastest time in Free Practice 2 for the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing car before the #28 TDS Racing Oreca returned to the tope of the time sheets in Free Practice 3.

Despite a change in BOP regulations in the build up to Silverstone, Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK continued to top the time sheets in the opening Free Practice session. The results looked much the same as normal early on, Ford leading the way with Porsche close behind. Ferrari managed to split the two Porsche GT Team cars, the #51 taking fourth at the end of the first session with both Aston Martin Racing and BMW Team MTEK making up the rear of the field. It was however, all change in Free Practice 2, Aston Martin Racing shot to the top of the time sheets early on before Harry Tincknell and Andy Priaulx responded to end the session fastest. It was a good result however for Aston Martin who managed to split the two Fords to take second and fourth in class. There were more surprises in store for Free Practice 3 on Saturday Morning, BMW Team MTEK briefly topped the running, the #82 of Augusto Farfus setting a 1:56.8. But by the end of the session, normal service was resumed, Ford going 1.2 seconds quicker than anyone else. Aston Martin and Ferrari however finished third and fourth, indicating that the recent BOP change may have had a positive affect on the class. Let’s see how things turn out in qualifying.

Porsche and Aston Martin continued to dominate in GTE-Am, the #88 Dempsey Proton Racing Porsche initially setting a time of 1:59.418 and leading a Porsche 1-2-3 from the #77 Dempsey Porsche and the #86 Gulf Racing Porsche. Aston Martin fought back well in Free Practice 2 but were not quite quick enough to take the top spot, the #88 Dempsey Proton Racing managing to hold on in the final moments. The #98 Aston Martin finished top of the time sheets in FP3, however, the top seven cars (of nine in class) were split by less than a second, the three top spots held by three different manufacturers.

Our third and final article of the series picks up where the story left off, Plateaux 4 covering 1962 through to 1965.


Plateaux 4 1962-1965


Ferrari continued to dominate through the early 1960s winning 6 consecutive years between 1960 and 1965. Ford join the series with young Kiwi Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon looking to go head to head with Ferrari for the overall win. Ferrari introduce the mid-engine layout and so begins the battle of the V8 vs the V12, the artisan from Northern Italy vs the powerhouse from Detroit. Away from the front, Porsche continue to improve with additional class victories.

In 1964, Masten Gregory and Jochen Rindt found themselves down in 15th place after three hours of running. The pair were in an old Ferrari 275 LM entered by NART. Jochen Rindt was a star of Formula 2 at this time and would later go on to win the F1 World Championship in 1970 whilst Masten Gregory was a very quick driver who had previous experience with both Jaguar and Aston Martin. By this point he had taken part in Le Mans nine times but finished no better than fifth in 1961 in a Porsche. He did however, have the 1960 lap record in the Maserati so there were no doubts that he had the pace.

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Sitting down in 15th place, they began to fight back, carving their way through the pack. The works cars of both Ford and Ferrari all retired, primarily due to shattered brake discs but Gregory and Rindt were flying. At every fuel stop, they were both getting an earful from NART team boss Luigi Chinetti who had only authorised the duo to use at most 7500 RPM to save the engine. The pair ignored him, pushing the engine to 9000 RPM, gradually clawing their way up the field and taking the win.

Plateaux 4 was dominated by Ford this weekend Diogo Ferraro taking the first race win of the weekend in the #61 GT40 MK1. He went on to finish second in the remaining two races, a strong performance for the Portuguese driver. Shaun Lynn came home in second place in the first race just ahead of Ludovic Caron in the Shelby Cobra 289. David Hart took the second race win of the weekend in the yellow #8 Ford GT40 from Ferraro and James Cottingham in the #64 Ford GT40 MK1. Race three was a near repeat of the results with Cottingham and Ferrao taking first and second as the #51 Ford GT40 MK1 of Grant Tromans took the final step of the podium.

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Plateaux 5 1966-1971


Plateaux 5 represents the domination of Ford in the late 1960s, taking four consecutive victories for the GT40. Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon took their first win in the GT40 MKII in 1966 starting a brief period of dominance for the Americans. A change in regulations see’s the birth of the early prototypes in 1970/1971 with the Porsche 917K taking two straight wins on the bounce going up against the likes of Alpine, Alfa Romeo and Matra. 1969 saw the last Le Mans start in which the drivers would run to their cars. A protest by Jacky Ickx in which he walked to his car rather than running, nearly getting hit in the process, forced the organisation to make a decision. The decision was made for them when Ickx won the race. The aerodynamic prototypes are still in their infancy at this stage and are incredibly tricky to drive with not enough downforce over the rear end to keep the cars stable. That said, they are seriously quick in a straight line and lap times are now averaging around 240km/h! The 917 was maxing out at 360km/h! In Grand Touring the battle continues to rage between the Porsche 911s, Porsche 914s and the Ferrari GTB and Daytonas.

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In the 1960s, Denny Hulme spent the majority of his time racing at McLaren, both before and after the death of Bruce McLaren. However, there is one particular race that could have seen that relationship change dramatically. With the finish of the 1966 race in site, the blue Ford GT40 of Hulme and Ken Miles was in the lead, McLaren and Amon were sat in second. It was at this point that Henry Ford decided to organise a dead heat final, to “underline the victory of the car rather than one of its driver line-ups”. Miles slowed to let Bruce draw level along with the third place GT40 which was a few laps down. The trio crossed the line together. The organisers declared the result a victory for Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon as they had been slower in qualifying and therefore started 20 metres further down the grid and as a result covered more distance during the race. Hulme and Miles would never win Le Mans. Whilst Hulme continued to race with McLaren, Miles was killed in an accident whilst testing the new Ford J just two months later.

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The racing this weekend swung in favour of the prototypes of the era, with the #69 Ligier JS3 DFV from 1971 taking the first two wins of the weekend. It was a strong performance from the Lola T70 MK3 with at least one making it into the top three in each of the races. David Hart took second place in the first race at the wheel of the #34 Lola T70 with Carlos Tavares taking third place. Jaques Nicolet took second place in race two followed by a win in race three in the Duckhams Ford. Tavares took third again in race two with Pierre Alain France rounding out the top three in race three in the #70 Lola T70.

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Plateaux 6 1972-1981


By this point, there has been a big step forward in engineering and aerodynamics, with the potential for cars to hit 400km/h down the Mulsanne. As a safety precaution, the organisers limited the size of the engines to 3 litres. As a result, Matra took a trio of wins between 1972 and 1974 with the Matra Simca MS670 piloted by Henri Pescarolo, Graham Hill and Gerard Larrousse. Ford jumped back to the front in 1975 with their V8 engine befor Porsche dominate for the next two years with the Jacky Ickx driven Porsche 936. At this point, aerodynamics are becoming more refined, rather than running as much downforce as possible. In GT, the Daytona’s and Porsche’s rule before Ferrari and BMW arrive with the BB and M1 Procar respectively.

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It's 1977, Le Mans was a disaster for Porsche. The Favourite car was broken and the other was running 49th. “I’ve had some great races but there’s one in which I really excelled myself,” says Le Mans legend Jacky Ickx. “Le Mans in 1977 with the Porsche 936. I’ve never driven as well in my life. It was unbelievable! The mechanics, the other drivers, everybody was in another world! And we transformed what had begun as a debacle into victory. I did double stints at night in the fog and the rain. I was on the absolute edge in the car, the circuit, the conditions. I pulled back such huge chunks of time on the Renaults, which were comfortably installed in the lead, that no one could believe their eyes! I stopped at the pits” “Do you want to change?” “No. I’ll stay in the car. And then you take charge, and nobody dares to say a word to you. Ask the Porsche engineers. They’d never seen anything like it in their life. We were running rings around the Renaults which weren’t exactly slowcoaches!”

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It was a strong performance this weekend from Yves Scemama in the Toj SC 304, taking one race victory in Race two and two second place finishes in the first and third race. Roald Goethe and Stuart Hall took the first win of the weekend in the Mirage GR7. Patrice Lafargue took third place in race one followed by second place in race two with Paul Lafargue and Dieteren Lalmand wrapping up third place in Race 2 and Race 3 respectively.

It is at this point, we take a gigantic step back in time, from the screaming V10s and ground effect aero of Group C, back to where it all began in the early 1920s.


Plateaux 1 1923-1939


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Plateaux 1 covers from 1923 to 1939 with representation from Bentley, Alfa Romeo, Lagonda, Bugatti, BMW and Talbot to name a few. Back then the Circuit looked very different. It was 19KM long run mostly on gravel roads with cars reaching a averaging a speed of 107 km/h. By 1939, the circuit had been cut to just over 13km and tarmac roads, average speeds were now around 155 km/h. Top speeds today reached 200 km/h at the fastest points of the circuit.

It was a time for invention and courage back then. French Engineer Jean Albert Gregoire was a pioneer in front wheel drive technology and one of the first to enter a front wheel drive car at Le Mans. Unfortunately for him, he suffered a head injury after a bad crash on a reconnaissance lap but despite this, he started the race with an enormous bandage wrapped around his head and a new unexpected team mate. He drafted in one of his mechanics to replace his team mate who was also injured in the same accident. Gregoire went on to finish seventh in his Tracta. The car may no longer be running; however, this represents some of the earliest developments in technology Le Mans has been responsible for over the years.

In recent years, Plateaux 1 has been dominated by both British and French entered Talbots but this year, BMW put up a strong fight in each of the three races. In race one, Michael Birch in the #20 1932 Talbot 105 took the win against strong competition from the #69 Bugatti Type 51 and #6 1939 BMW 328 Roadsters. Rob Spencer challenged for the lead in race two in the #21 1928 Bugatti Type 35B but was unable to beat Gareth Burnett in the #17 1931 Talbot 105. The #14 BMW 328 Roadster of Albert Otten and Diethelm Horbach rounded out the podium in third place. Burnett took the final win of the weekend in race three after a challenging race against Michael Birch and the #14 BMW 328.

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Plateaux 2 1949-1956


Plateaux 2 represents cars from 1949 through 1956, the last outing for some of the great pre-war manufacturers such as Talbot. New comers Ferrari and Jaguar dominated through the early 1950s. There is an increased focus on aerodynamics and brakes to achieve the best performance in areas such as the Mulsanne Straight. The race is now attracting some of the biggest names in the business; Fangio, Moss, Hawthorn and Collins to name a few. It also began to attract other manufacturers, one of whom went on to become the most successful brand in the event’s history, Porsche.

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The 1955 disaster resulted in a big overall of circuit safety, not just at Le Mans but around the world. The pit complex was raised and rebuilt further back allowing the pit straight to be widened. Whilst safety standards improved, the cars got faster, and open cockpit roadsters battled against closed cockpit coupes as average speeds now hit the 200 Km/h mark! The two Cadillacs entered by American Briggs Cunningham were the first to have radio links to the team in the pits back in 1950. That year they finished 10th and 11th respectively. Cunningham returned to the great race in the coming years and in 1953, the latest generation of the car had 400 horse power, an additional 100 horse power on the previous year. That year, the cars hit 249km/h on Les Hunaudieres. John Fitch brought the car home in third and immediately pulled up to his pit box to celebrate and join the team for champagne. It was as the celebrations began an official pointed out that he had crossed the line a couple of seconds before the 16:00 finish point and therefore still had one lap to go! Panic quickly ensued as Fitch dropped his champagne and jumped back into the car, still soaked from his earlier champagne shower! Luckily for him, fourth place was still far enough behind that he was able to re-join and complete the subsequent lap to take the flag and finish third. The Cunningham C4R is racing this weekend in the hands of Alain Ruede who achieved a best place of eighth in race three on Sunday afternoon.

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As in period, Jaguar dominated each of the three races this weekend, locking out the podium in two out of three races. The #3 car of Clive Joy took two out of three wins, winning the first and second race whilst finishing second in race three. Carlos Monteverde continued to challenge Joy across the weekend, taking first place in the final race but finishing second in race one and two. Maserati made a brief appearance on the podium in race two, Richard Wilson putting the 1957 Maserati 250 on the third step having finished fourth in the first and third races.

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Plateaux 3 1957-1961


Plateaux 3 represents the next step forward in sports car racing, bigger engines, more power, more speed. Cars are now averaging over 200 km/h as large capacity 6-cylinder engines or V12s become the norm. Ferrari dominated the era with 3 victories over Aston Martin and Jaguars one apiece. The smaller Maserati also fought it out with the three bigger rivals in the top category. In Grand Touring, the cars are only slightly less powerful with Porsche scoring regular class victories and class championships. The American Carroll Shelby takes his first win alongside Roy Salvadori in the Aston Martin DBR1 in 1959 as lap times begin to tumble.

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Jaguar picked up another win in 1957, however there was a brief flash of brilliance at the start of the race that could have seen things go very differently. Ferrari were drafting in the best drivers from Formula 1 at the time so in 1957, Scuderia Ferrari entered a team of Maurice Trintignant, Mike Hawthorn, Luigi Musso, Phil Hill and Peter Collins. Collins quickly became a favourite with Enzo himself and in 1957, he started the race. Collins ran the sprint across the track, jumping into his 335MM and screamed off down the track, the 390bhp V12 roaring as he accelerated off into the distance. Just four minutes later, he screamed down the start finish straight at 300 km/h, close to 180mph! Despite a standing start, he had smashed the previous lap record. Just two laps later though, disaster struck. The Ferrari had blown a piston and would not re-join the race.

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Despite domination in period, Ferrari only took one win this weekend with Lukas Halusa taking the first race win in the Ferrari 250 GTO “Breadvan”. Roger Wills and David Clark finished a close second before going on to win race two and three in the #68 Lotus XV. The Breadvan went on to finish second in the third race after a good scrap with Clark and Wills midway through the race.

In the first of this three-part special feature, Speed Chills View review the 2018 Le Mans Classic, an event firmly established in the motorsport calendar. Take a look at some of the pictures and the roundup of all the on-track action from the weekend.

The Le Mans Classic made its debut back in 2002. At the time, it was a financial disaster for Patrick Peter and Peter Auto, the organisers. Back then, just 30,000 people came to spectate the event over one weekend in September. However, that first event sparked an interest and word began to spread. 16 years later, the Le Mans Classic has firmly established itself in both the historic racing community and motorsport community as a whole with over 140,000 people expected to attend this year with 10 previous winners of the Le Mans 24 Hour set to compete including Roman Dumas, Loic Duval and Jochen Mass.

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The Le Mans Classic is a truly special event. Le Mans is one of the few tracks in the world that is steeped in so much history. The 24 Hour itself, was first run in 1923 and all though the track has changed several times since then, this weekend, some of those original contenders have returned.

The entry list for the Le Mans Classic is huge, that’s the only way to describe it. This year there are circa 750 racing cars on track with over a thousand drivers taking part across the three days.

First of all, there are six “Plateaux”, grids too you and I, spanning 60 years of competition, from the early pre-World War 2 era of the 1920s and 1930s all the way through to the early 1980s. In addition to that, there are a number of separate races for classic Jaguars and Porsche along with a dedicated grid to the mighty Group C era of the 1980s and early 1990s.

New for 2018 is the Global Endurance Legends Series, at this stage, they only featured for two 30-minute parade sessions, however expect a lot more from them in the coming years. The Masters Endurance Legends series held its first UK race at Brands Hatch earlier this year having been unveiled late in 2017.

In short, the Le Mans Classic is the only event in the world where you can watch anything from Pre-War Bentley’s and Bugatti’s all the way through the classic sports car era of the 1960s to Group C and beyond to the early days of LMP alongside GT1 and GT2 of the late 1990s and early 2000s.

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The action began on Friday morning, 70 cars from the newly formed Global Endurance Legends Series took to the circuit behind the safety car for the first of two 30-minute sessions and what an incredible site it was. The field was led by a bright Yellow Ferrari 333SP in the hands of Michel Lecourt and despite it being a parade, it quickly became apparent a number of small battles were emerging, Andy Bruce in the Spark McLaren F1 GTR for one, going three abreast down the Mulsanne Straight with the Panoz Esperante GTR-1 and a Porsche 993 GT2 Evo at almost 180 miles an hour. Le Mans 24 Hour veteran Emmanuel Collard made his return to Le Mans in the very Toyota TS020 GT-One that he drove here back in 1999 with Martin Brundle and Vincenzo Sospiri. Unfortunately, the car retired part way through the race however the sister #3 car finished second that year behind the #15 BMW V12 LMR of Yannick Dalmas, Joachim Winkelhock and Pierluigi Martini.

A number of fan favourites from previous years also took part in the parade including the ex-Colin McRae Ferrari 550 GT1, the 2003 Bentley Speed 8, the Audi R8 and Peugeot 908. Manufacturers from the modern era of the FIA World Endurance Championship were well represented across the GT1, GT2, GT3 and LM GT categories including the Aston Martin DBR9 GT1, Ferrari F430, AF Corse Ferrari 458 GTE and Porsche 997 GT3 RSR.

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Next up, it was the return of the mighty Group C cars, a fan favourite for obvious reasons at the Le Mans Classic. A number of iconic liveries and brands made a welcome return to Le Mans including a host of Silk Cut liveried Jaguar XJR’s, Peugeot 905’s and Porsche 962’s. Regular FIA Masters Historic Formula 1 driver Michael Lyons returned in the 1991 Gebhardt C91, taking victory in the only race of the weekend. Shaun Lynn, father of Aston Martin factory driver Alex Lynn took second place in the 1987 Jaguar XJR-9 from the 1989 XJR11 of Ralf Kelleners and Ivan Vercourtere. They made for a spectacular sight this weekend with some pretty close racing throughout the grid. The ground effect aero causing the cars to stick to the track as they made their way down Dunlop Hill or through Porsche Curves at incredible speed was mind blowing. The 908 Peugeot’s were a highlight for many during the Group C sessions, their naturally aspirated V10’s screaming akin to an early 90s Formula 1 car with up shifts that sounded like canon fire, piercing the ear drums of anyone trackside at the time.

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There was so much talk pre-race about this result being preordained, that Toyota – as the lone manufacturer still competing with a hybrid in LMP1 – was shooting at an open goal. But the fact remains that Formula 1 superstar Fernando Alonso and his hard-working team-mates Sebastian Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima still had to conquer this toughest of races. Finally, Toyota banished the 30-year curse. It won the Le Mans 24 Hours, and even without Porsche and Audi to beat, it didn’t really matter that the Japanese giant walked it – because this was a satisfying near-perfect performance.

The two TS050 Hybrids were in a race of their own, which was hardly unexpected. But what could only have been hoped for rather than predicted was how smooth the race proved to be for the team. Apart from a scare for the #7 car an hour and a half before the finish, little went wrong.

The most dangerous moment was the start, when Andre Lotterer’s Rebellion R-13 nudged Buemi’s #8 car at Turn 1 before his front bodywork blew off and took out the DragonSpeed BR1 of Ben Hanley at the Dunlop Chicane. Buemi survived the moment unscathed, followed team-mate Mike Conway through the chicane and the pair began building their lead down the Mulsanne. Twenty-four hours later the winning car was 12 laps clear of the best-of-the-rest Rebellion team, which finished a superb third and fourth with its new ORECA-built cars.

One small hitch for Toyota was that through Saturday evening and into the night, it was the #7 car that was leading. This wasn’t to the script, with victory for Alonso in #8 an unspoken priority for Toyota, to maximise exposure for a win that might have lacked flavour without the dash of superstar spice.

But this is the point when Alonso earned his victory, which he needed to achieve to take the second step towards his much-discussed triple crown target. A gap of two minutes had opened between the cars, but in the darkest hours the two-time F1 world champion got his head down and proved conclusively that he was completely home at Le Mans. He played a pivotal part in that gap coming down, to the point that Nakajima could take the lead from Kamui Kobayashi at Mulsanne Corner in the morning. Alonso had shown his class.

Having lost the lead, either by stage management or pure form, the #7 car endured a nervy final quarter of the race. First, Jose Maria Lopez spun at the Dunlop Chicane, then with 90 minutes left Kobayashi suddenly slowed. It turned out he should have pitted, but mistakenly started another lap. The Japanese had to slow to save fuel and ensure he’d complete the extra lap. After a careful tour and a standard stop, he was back up to speed, but now off the lead lap. A stop-go penalty for exceeding the prescribed LMP1 hybrid stint length rubbed salt in Kobayashi’s embarrassment and the car finished two laps down on its sister.

At 3pm, Nakajima crossed the line to end Toyota’s Le Mans angst once and for all. The sense of relief spread through the garage and surely into the giant grandstand opposite the pits. The team would have been humiliated not to have won this race given the lack of opposition, but few would begrudge Toyota after so many years trying to win the greatest race in the world. The victory was fully deserved.

As for Alonso, he now needs to conquer the Indianapolis 500 to complete his triple crown set, beside his two Monaco GPs wins and the 2018 Le Mans 24 Hours. Who would bet against him achieving it?

As Alonso celebrated a well-earned victory, his old McLaren team-mate Jenson Button rued his bad luck in the #11 SMP Racing BR1. A long early stop had left the car dead last and without hope of a decent result, but to SMP’s credit the team pushed on regardless. Button, Vitaly Petrov and Mikhail Aleshin drove superbly through the night and into the morning – only for the engine to let go in the final hour with Button at the wheel. But this was still a promising debut for the car. Let’s hope Button returns for another crack with SMP next year.

LMP2: G-Drive dominates

The G-Drive ORECA of Jean-Eric Vergne, Roman Rusinov and Andrea Pizzitola dominated the secondary prototype division to score a long awaited first Le Mans win for this excellent team. The trio led from the first hour and was never threatened during a remarkably clean run.

The G-Drive car held a comfortable two-lap lead over the #36 Signature-Alpine car, with Tristan Gommendy just holding off a final nail-biting charge from Loic Duval in the #39 Graff entry to complete the podium. Meanwhile there was heartbreak for the pole-winning IDEC ORECA following a strong race. A gearbox problem forced the car into retirement in hour 22.

GTE: Porsche proves ‘Pink Pigs’ do fly

Porsche might have been missing from LMP1 this year, but the German giant still dominated the GTE class at Le Mans. The retro liveries featured on its two Manthey-run cars were well received by all Le Mans fans, and it was the #92 911 featuring the ‘Pink Pig’ colours last seen on a long-tail Porsche 917 in 1971 that led most of the race to secure a resounding victory. Kevin Estre, Michael Christensen and Laurens Vanthoor drove beautifully all the way.

The #91 car, running in the old Group C 956/962 ‘Rothmans’ colours, had a more eventful race which featured the most engaging battle of Le Mans 2018. On Sunday morning, the #68 Ford GT of Sebastien Bourdais caught Fred Makowiecki in the Porsche and looked determined to pass. But ‘Mako’ put up a robust defence – too robust for most onlookers. He weaved down the Mulsanne in an attempt to break Bourdais’ tow, but that did not stop the Indycar star pulling off the move of the race when he passed the Porsche on the outside of the fast Indianapolis right-hand kink, only for the Porsche to draft back past on the run out of Arnage. Twice Makowiecki edged the Ford off the track in his efforts to keep hold of second place, but somehow the stewards waved away any concerns.

The #91 Porsche duly delivered a one-two for the marque, with Fords #68 and #67 finishing in a class three-four.

Porsche also claimed the GTE Am class after a similarly dominant performance by the Dempsey-Proton team. The #77 911 of Matt Campbell, Christian Ried and Julien Andlauer was never threatened during a close-as-perfect performance. As the car crossed the line, team patron and Hollywood star Patrick Dempsey roared on the pitwall in delight.

Average race, unforgettable result

In truth, this was hardly a classic Le Mans 24 Hours in terms of the battle for the overall win – because there wasn’t one, other than the (admittedly genuine) tension that existed between the sister Toyotas. Likewise, LMP2 wasn’t as close as we’ve seen in the past, which left GTE Pro to provide most of the entertainment.

But still, this was a Le Mans race no one will forget, firstly because of the significance of the result for Toyota, which becomes the second Japanese manufacturer after Mazda in 1991 to win Le Mans, and also because of Fernando Alonso’s brilliant performance. The Spaniard’s presence lifted this race and his star quality added to the lustre of his team’s victory.

Bravo Toyota, bravo Fernando.

Morning has broken at Le Mans – but the same cannot to be said of the two Toyota TS050 HYBRIDs… The pair have survived the night and continue to lead the 24 Hours with less than a quarter of the race still to run. The manufacturer remains on target to end its curse at a race it has been trying to win for more than 30 years.

It was a relatively calm night at the Circuit de la Sarthe, with remarkably few major incidents to report. The #7 Toyota had led, with the #8 sister entry that includes F1 superstar Fernando Alonso among its line-up finding itself playing a support role. That wasn’t in the script.

But in the morning, during the 16th hour, the order switched around. Whether it was stage-managed or genuine, Kazuki Nakajima passed Kamui Kobayashi into Mulsanne Corner. Both cars would later be penalised with a one-minute stop-go for speeding in a slow zone, but with more than 10 laps on the pair of Rebellion R-13s still running third and fourth it made little difference to the complexion of a race that appears very much in Toyota’s grip.

One incident of note was Ben Hanley’s accident in the DragonSpeed BR1. The car slithered off and hit the barriers hard. Hanley did well to nurse the car back to the pits, but it was in a sorry state. With SMP’s problems with its pair of BR1s and the troubles that befell the Ginetta challenge in the early stages, the long-time LMP2 leader is now running fifth overall. The G-Drive ORECA of Jean-Eric Vergne, Andrea Pizzitola and Roman Rusinov is a lap clear of the Panis-Barthez Ligier that is chasing it.

GTE continues to be dominated by Porsche. The #92 ‘Pink Pig’ entry still leads the Pro category, a couple of minutes clear of the sister ‘Rothmans’ 911. A pair of the Ford GTs continue to chase, seemingly in vain, while one of the Corvettes is in the mix too. But with the Dempsey-Proton #77 Porsche leading GTE Am too, it’s the Stuttgart marque’s race to lose.

Midnight at Le Mans. So far – so far – it’s been a perfect race for Toyota Gazoo Racing (if anything is going to tempt fate, it’s saying that!). The pair of TS050 HYBRIDs have been circulating just seconds apart through the evening, although the #7 car has opened a half-minute lead over the sister #8 after a heroic effort from Kamui Kobayashi. As we write, Sebastian Buemi has returned to the cockpit of #8 and is attempting to claw back the deficit.

Whatever we might think about Toyota ‘managing’ this race, in which it has no serious opposition, the two cars are absolutely not cruising in a glorified parade. The pace is unrelenting, both line-ups knowing full well they each need to be the one holding the advantage later in the race when surely the call will come for the team to hold station. And that’s not forgetting that fate can throw a spanner in the works for both. This race can still bite, despite Toyota’s dominance – as the team knows from all too bitter experience.

But what will Toyota do if the cars do run trouble-free? Cynics have been saying all week that Fernando Alonso is ‘destined’ to win this race, to ensure maximum column inches (and SEO-friendly web pages) for the manufacturer that is so desperate to end its 30 years of hurt at Le Mans. The man himself lived up to expectations with his first race stints and led the race in #8. But currently the cars are running in the ‘wrong’ order. At this still early stage (we’re not yet at the half-way mark), we wonder: if #7 continues to lead into the morning and tomorrow afternoon, will Toyota’s hierarchy make the dreaded call and hold it back to change the order? Only time will tell.

The battle for the best of the rest has sadly lost some of its steam after SMP Racing’s challenge skated off in a terrifying high-speed spin at the Porsche Curves which ended up in the barriers. Poor Matevos Isaakyan looked distraught after backing his BR1 into the barriers at the first right-hander. The incident has left Rebellion’s pair of R13s secure in third and fourth places. All they can do now is keep going – and hope the wheels come off Toyota’s hybrid train.

Jenson Button in the second SMP entry has impressed, despite starting his stint 60th and bog last after his car’s long delays early in the race. The charismatic former F1 champ posted the tweet of the race following his debut stints at Le Mans. “Eyes still wide open 50 minutes after getting out of the car, that’s what a 3hr 40min stint will do, I guess!” he tweeted. The car has no hope of a decent result, but the place has clearly made an impression on Button, nevertheless. Let’s hope he returns for another shot next year.

In LMP2, G-Drive appears to have this race in a stranglehold, but as we’ve seen so many times before that can all change in an instant. As it stands, G-Drive’s #26 ORECA, led by former Toro Rosso F1 ace Jean-Eric Vergne, has a clear lead. The #23 Panis-Barthez Dallara is second ahead of the class pole-winning IDEC ORECA.

Another former grand prix star discovered how Le Mans can bite during his first LMP2 stint. Juan Pablo Montoya had been enjoying himself in United Autosport’s Dallara – until he stuffed it at, of all places, Indianapolis. The two-time Indy 500 winner self-deprecatingly said he’d “run out of talent” during the incident, although the car is still in the race.

GTE has entertained throughout the race, although right now Porsche has the class in its grip. The ‘Pink Pig’ retro-liveried #92 car continues to lead a Stuttgart 1-2-3, with BMW’s new M8 showing a good turn of pace on its Le Mans debut.

Porsche also leads GTE Am thanks to the Dempsey-Proton 911, ahead of the #84 Ferrari which includes former Renault and Jordan grand prix winner Giancarlo Fisichella among its line-up.

Only nine of the 24 hours have passed. This race can still have a sting in its tail. Everyone at Toyota Gazoo Racing will be hoping that absolutely won’t be the case this year.

Early evening at Le Mans and all is right with the world. The rain that threatened in the first hour came to nothing – and Toyota lead the greatest motor race in the world as it expected to, with Fernando Alonso looking comfortable in his first race stint on the 8.4-mile Circuit de la Sarthe. But it all could have been so different in the opening seconds of the 2018 Le Mans 24 Hours.

The #8 Toyota TS050 HYBRID started from pole position, with Sebastian Buemi accelerating side by side with the sister #7 car of Mike Conway as they took the start at 3pm. But the privateer LMP1 hordes behind them were hotter on the gas, and Andre Lotterer came oh so close to ending Alonso’s Le Mans dream before it had even begun.

Lotterer’s Rebellion R13 was so quick it got a little too close into the sweeping first turn, nudging into the back of the #8 Toyota. Buemi wasn’t too unsettled by the moment and followed Conway through the Dunlop chicane to establish Toyota’s expected position of dominance at the front. But behind the hybrids, all hell broke loose.

The contact loosened Lotterer’s front bodywork and with a lack of downforce he ran wide on the exit for Turn 1 and was off line for the chicane. As he braked, the bodywork shot off and knocked Ben Hanley’s DragonSpeed BR Engineering BR1 into a spin. In the first seconds, leading LMP1 cars were in the wars – and Toyota’s famous Le Mans curse had come close to returning in the most dramatic way!

As it was, there is nothing for Alonso to fear. For now, at least. Buemi would take the lead from Conway in the first hour to make serene progress at the front. During the second hour a slow zone caused by Mike Wainwright crashing the GTE Pro Am leading Porsche into the tyres at Indianapolis allowed Conway to snatch back the lead. In the third hour, Buemi would hand over to Alonso in second place, with Jose Maria Lopez in for Conway at the front. There is little between the pair and indeed, as we write Alonso has taken the lead.

As fans think about what to eat for dinner and perhaps cracking open another beer, all appears fine in Toyota’s world. But don’t think for a second the TS050 drivers are cruising. Judging by their lap times, Toyota’s belief that racing at 100 per cent pace is the only way to win Le Mans – even if they have no realistic opposition other than the race itself.

Behind them, the expected battle for best-of-the-rest honours is coming to pass. SMP Racing and Rebellion are going at it for third overall. Early on, SMP’s #17 BR1 held the advantage in the experienced hands of Stephane Sarrazin, but the #3 Rebellion of Thomas Laurent took the place in the second hour and Mathias Beche is currently maintaining that position as the race thunders through its fourth hour.

The #3 Rebellion, which completed the first lap without that front bodywork, has recovered well from its dramatic start and currently runs fifth in the hands of Bruno Senna, ahead of the DragonSpeed BR1 which has also bounced back from its spin.

But the same fortune has not befallen the second SMP Racing BR1, which includes Jenson Button among its drivers. An engine problem has left the team working frantically in the garage to get the car back out on track – but it’s not looking good.

Button described the “sense of failure” within the team. “It’s quite disappointing,” he said with some understatement. “The problem is deep in the power unit. Even catching the back of the LMP2 field will be tough now. It’ll be a test session for us now.” The 2009 F1 World Champion will at least hope to gain his first experience of the Le Mans 24 Hours at some point in the evening.

The top LMP2 car runs seventh overall following an assured start from former grand prix driver Jean-Eric Vergne. The #26 G-Drive ORECA is currently in the hands of Andrea Pizzitola.

But the real interest in the race is in GTE Pro. Images of these wonderful supercars running in trains down the Mulsanne have been among the best highlights of Le Mans 2018 so far, and as expected the battle at the front is between Porsche and Ford. The retro-livery #91 ‘Pink Pig’ and #92 ‘Rothmans’ 911s are running together at the front, but the Ford GTs remain very much in touch as the race settles in for the evening.

In the GTE Am class Wainwright’s accident in the Gulf Porsche changed the complexion of the class. Ben Barker had established the car in the class lead before his team-mate undid his hard work. The car is back in the race, but now the #77 Dempsey-Proton Porsche currently heads the pack.

These are still the early skirmishes of the 2018 Le Mans 24 Hours. There’s so much still to play out and, as ever, you can’t take your eyes off this race for a minute.

Race morning. Not long to go now before the start of the biggest race of the year. But after the intensity of qualifying on Wednesday and Thursday, what should we look out for in the prototype and GTE divisions?

LMP1

First things first, Toyota appears to be as dominant as we expected. The two TS050 HYBRIDs had a clear pace advantage in the day and night qualifying sessions, with Kazuki Nakajima setting an incredible pole position time of 3m15.377s to claim the top spot in the #8 car. Kamui Kobayashi wasn’t exactly hanging around either in the #7 entry, but his best lap was exactly two seconds off his fellow Japanese’s best effort.

And what of Fernando Alonso, the man who is likely to be the focus of so much attention during the next 24 hours? Well, the Spaniard knuckled down and learnt all about the incredible 8.4-mile circuit. The two-time Formula 1 world champion is known for his work ethic and he has left no stone unturned to be ready for this race. He completed an impressive 48 laps over the course of Wednesday and Thursday, trying all types of tyres in the process – and he showed a clear improvement in single-lap pace, too. By the end of Thursday his best lap of 3m18.021s was considered more than respectable.

Expect Alonso to more than hold his own during the race. The F1 star shouldn’t be the weakest link for the #8 team.

Behind the Toyotas, we can expect a tight and exciting battle between the two leading privateer teams running non-hybrid LMP1s. There was little in it between SMP Racing and Rebellion in qualifying, the latter’s ORECA-built car just edging the Dallara-built BR1s on Thursday. The teams are unlikely to threaten Toyota, but they should be a in great race of their own. Will reliability be the deciding factor about who contends for a podium finish? Yes, more than likely.

LMP2

Grid positions mean little in a 24-hour race, but qualifying is vital to give teams and drivers experience of track conditions and assess their pace. The surprise pole position winner in LMP2 therefore won’t be getting carried away, but IDEC’s ORECA will clearly be a contender for the class win after the team’s great form on Wednesday and Thursday.

On paper, there are stronger and better know driver line-ups than Paul-Loup Chatin, Memo Rojas and Paul Lafargue (the latter is the son of the team owner), but the trio have shown a good turn of speed from the Le Mans test day a couple of weeks ago through the practice and qualifying sessions this week. If they can maintain that pace, ably supported by team manager and former LMP1 racer Nicolas Minassian, IDEC could convert its pole position into a very special result.

But as ever, the class is likely to be wide open. ORECA’s chassis has maintained it advantage it enjoyed last year over the Dallaras, but the Italian cars are at least a little more competitive. Expect the unexpected from the most unpredictable class at Le Mans.

GTE

Porsche’s retro-liveried Manthey-run 911s were fastest, and from what we’ve seen so far, the German cars will be fighting it out for GTE class honours with the Ford GTs. With four cars in each camp in the PRO class, this fight promises to be one for the ages.

But Corvette’s duo of entries will still be hoping to mix it with the class frontrunners too. On its 19th consecutive appearance at the race, you can never discount the American cars, especially if they have clean, untroubled races. With their experience, a Corvette could well be in a position to steal the glory from Porsche and Ford.

Aston Martin? Perhaps not. The new Vantage has an impressive and extensive testing programme behind it, but so far at Le Mans 2018 it has been well off the pace in GTE. The British manufacturer to a famous class win this time last year – but that looks more than a long shot this year.

Still, with this race you just never know. You can bet the experienced Aston squad will be doing all it can to learn about its new car over the course of the 24 Hours, with one on the rest of the World Endurance Championship Superseason, and one on the race next year. Again, reliability can bring great rewards at Le Mans, too. With a clean run, the team might find itself with a nice surprise on Sunday afternoon.